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|Black July pogrom|
A stripped naked Tamil youth sits on a concrete step at the Borella bus stand as a laughing Sinhalese mob dance around him.
Location of Sri Lanka
|Date||July 24, 1983 - July 26, 1983 (+6 GMT)|
|Target||Primarily Sri Lankan Tamil|
|Attack type||Decapitation, Burning, Stabbing, Shooting|
|Weapon(s)||Knives, Sticks, Fire, Guns and Explosives|
|Deaths||between 400 and 3000|
|Injured (non-fatal)||25 000 +|
in Sri Lanka
|Gal Oya (1956)|
|1958 riots (1958)|
|1977 riots (1977)|
|Black July (1983)|
Black July is the commonly used name referring to the anti-Tamil pogrom and attacks carried out by mobs in Sri Lanka which began on July 23rd, 1983. The riots began as a response to a deadly ambush by a Tamil militant organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that killed 13 Sri Lanka Army soldiers. Estimates vary on the death toll and damage caused by the riots, but somewhere between 400 and 3000  Tamils were killed, and as many as tens of thousands of houses were destroyed. A wave of Sri Lankan Tamils fled to other countries in the ensuing years.
Black July is generally seen as the start of full-scale armed conflict between Tamil militants and the government of Sri Lanka. 23 July has become a day of remembrance for the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora community around the world.
During the colonial period many Sri Lankan Tamils, particularly those from the Jaffna peninsula, took advantage of educational facilities established by missionaries and the British policy of divide and rule which placed minorities in positions of power in colonies, and soon dominated the civil service and other professions. When Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, a majority of government jobs were held by Tamils, who were a minority of the country's population. The elected leaders saw this as the result of a British stratagem to control the majority Sinhalese, and deemed it a situation that needed correction.
In 1956 the Sinhala Official Language Act (presently the Sinhala Only Act) was introduced. Hitherto English - spoken by only 5% of the population - had been the only official language, with the use of Sinhala (spoken by 75%) and Tamil (spoken by 25%) being severely restricted. Protests against this policy by Tamils and by the Left parties was met with mob violence that eventually snowballed into the 1958 riots. The policy's implementation deprived the Tamil populations in the North and East of the country of their right to fully integrate into government institutions and was the foremost injustice brought upon the ethnic minority group.
In 1958 the Tamil political leadership acquiesced to a formula of Sinhala as the official language, but with the 'reasonable use of Tamil'. Only the Left parties opposed this, holding out for parity of status between the two languages. However, after the Tamil people gave an overwhelming mandate to the Tamil ethnic Federal party, which had agreed to a subordinate status for the Tamil language, the Left parties eventually abandoned parity of status.
Throughout the 1960s, protests and state repression against these protests created further animosity. In 1972, the policy of standardization that affected Tamils' entry into university's strained the already tenuous political relationship between the elites of the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. The quota entitlement in political representation became another cause for contention between Sinhala and Tamil people. There was also a series of notable ethnic riots known as the 1977 riots following the United National Party coming to power in 1977. In 1981, the renowned public library in Jaffna was burnt down by a violent mob. The Jaffna Library was well known at the time as a nexus of Tamil activity with various Tamil groups vying for control. Until 1983, there were similar incidents of low level violence between the government and the mushrooming Tamil militant groups with a significant number of murders, disappearances and cases of torture attributed to both sides.
Events of July 1983 
The events dubbed Black July began after members of the rebels Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers or the LTTE) organization ambushed the military patrol Four Four Bravo in Thirunelveli, Jaffna on the evening of July 23rd, 1983. This was the latest of a string of Tamil rebels attacks targeting Sinhalese policemen. In the July 23rd massacre of 13 soldiers, initially, a road-side bomb was detonated beneath the jeep that was leading the convoy, injuring at least two soldiers on board. As soldiers traveling in a truck which was following the jeep dismounted to help their colleagues, they were ambushed by a group of Tamil Tiger fighters, who fired at them with automatic weapons and hurled grenades at them. In the ensuing clashes, one officer and 12 soldiers died immediately, while two more were fatally wounded, bringing the total death toll to 15 along with number of rebels. Kittu, a regional commander of the LTTE later admitted to planning and carrying out the ambush.
In order to avoid a violent backlash from the population due to the ambush,, the government decided to quietly bury the 15 soldiers at the Kanatte cemetery in Colombo. They would therefore be going against standard procedure where the fallen members of the armed forces were buried in their home villages. On July 24th, the day the 15 servicemen were to be buried, some Sinhalese civilians who had gathered at the cemetery, angered by news of the ambush, which was magnified by wild rumor, formed mobs and started attacking and assaulting Tamils, while looting and burning their properties in retribution for what happened. Members of the underworld criminal gangs then joined in. The mobs were equipped with voter registration lists, thereby giving credence to an organized attack with support at government level, burning and attacking mainly Tamil residences and business, while army and government officials were deployed late. While a number of Tamils fled the city, many of the Sinhalese and Muslim people saved the lives and properties of many Tamils despite the activities of the gangs. Many Tamils were sheltered in government buildings, temples as well as Sinhalese and Muslim houses during the following days.
The government declared an emergency curfew in Colombo on the evening of the 24th; however, the police were unwilling, or unable to enforce the curfew. The army was then called in to help the police. However, the violence continued the next day, and began to spread all across the country, engulfing areas with sizeable Tamil populations, including Kandy (where curfew was declared at 6 p.m) in: Matale, Nawalapitiya, Badulla and Nuwara Eliya. Vehicles on the streets were burnt, and Tamil people were dragged from cars and beaten or killed..
One of the most notorious single attacks of the riots took place at the Welikada high security prison on July 25th. Thirty-seven Tamil prisoners, most of them detained under the Prevention of rebels Act, were killed by Sinhalese prisoners using knives and clubs. Survivors claimed that the prison officers allowed the keys to fall into the hand of the Sinhalese prisoners, while at the subsequent inquest, the prison officers claimed the keys were stolen from them. A second riot at the prison took place on July 28th, in which a further 15 prisoners were killed.
The curfew was extended nationwide on July 26th as a precautionary measure, as there were more outbreaks of violence against Tamils in areas where various ethnic groups lived together. By the evening of the 26th, the mob violence began to slacken off, as the police and army patrolled the street in large numbers and began to take action against the rioters. The soldiers killed in the Jaffna ambush were quietly buried during the night curfew. The daytime curfew was lifted in Colombo the next day, although sporadic violence continued in other parts of the country over the next few days, mainly in response to rumors that "kotiyas" (i.e. Tamil Tiger) were coming to attack the city.
Brief rioting broke out on the 29th, after which police shot dead 15 rioters. A 24-hour curfew was imposed on the capital, and the security forces were able to regain control of the city.
Government's response 
There was a growing tension between the Sinhala and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka, even before the actual riots, and with the formation of rebel Tamil groups, there was a rising anti-Tamil sentiment among the Sinhalese majority. Although it started as a spontaneous reaction by Sinhalese mobs gathered at the Colombo Cemetery where the bodies of the soldiers were to be buried, later joined by elements associated with the Sinhalese political activists actively involved in the organization of the riots. Also, during the early stages of riots, it is alleged the local police officers and military stood by doing nothing. By July 26th, however, police and the army were out in the streets taking actions against the mobs and most of the violence died out. The government extended the curfew to prevent violence from spreading to other parts of the country. A brief span of rioting broke out on July 29th when police shot and killed 15 Sinhalese looters.
Even though some Tamil politicians accused the ruling UNP for not taking appropriate actions to prevent the riots, according to the government it took vital counter measures from the very early stages to combat rioters and safeguard the Tamil community. Curfew was enforced immediately after the riots broke out. The attacks, according to the government, were carefully organized and government properties such as trains, buildings and buses were the initial targets. Prime Minister Ranasingha Premadasa formed a committee to organize shelter and feeding for an estimated 20,000 homeless Tamils in Colombo. These temporary shelters were situated at five school buildings and an aircraft hangar. After the number refugees increased to around 50,000 and the Government with help from India took measures to send Tamils north by ships.
Eyewitness accounts 
The rioters initially targeted government properties. As it had happened many times before and after, most of the people who gathered at the Borella Kanatta, where the dead army soldiers were supposed to be buried, directed their anger towards the Government. Later it developed into full scale violence, targeting Tamil citizens and their properties.
The murder, looting and general destruction of property was well organized. Mobs armed with petrol were seen stopping passing motorists at critical street junctions and, after ascertaining the ethnic identity of the driver and passengers, setting alight the vehicle with the driver and passengers trapped within it.
Mobs were also seen stopping buses to identify Tamil passengers and subsequently these passengers were knifed, clubbed to death or burned alive. One Norwegian tourist saw a mob set fire to a minibus with 20 people inside, killing them all.
Tamil civilians in other cities, including Galle, Matara, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Pussellawa, Ginigathhena, Hatton, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, and Anuradapura, were also attacked by Sinhalese mobs.
Casualty estimates 
The estimates of casualties vary. While the government initially stated just 250 Tamils were killed, various NGOs and international agencies estimate that between 400 and 3,000 people suspected of being Sri Lankan Tamils or Hill Country Tamils were killed in the riots. 53 terrorism suspects alone were killed in the Welikade prison massacre. Eventually the Sri Lankan government put the death toll at about 300 dead.
More than 18,000 houses and numerous commercial establishments were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled the country to Europe, Australia and Canada. Many Tamil youths also joined the various Tamil groups including the LTTE.
Prosecutions and compensations 
There was a presidential commission appointed during the subsequent People's Alliance government that estimated that nearly 300 people killed and 18,000 establishments including houses were destroyed and recommended that restitution be paid. Thus far, no restitution has been paid or any criminal proceedings against anyone involved begun.
As a remembrance day 
July 23rd, or Black July Day, has become a day of mourning and remembrance amongst the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora around the world. Tamil Diaspora around the world come together to commemorate the loss of Tamils. This has happened in countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
|Black July Gallery|
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- Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam (1989). The Break up of Sri Lanka: the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1211-5.
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- O'Ballance, Edgar (1989). The cyanide war : Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka, 1973-88. London: Brassey's (UK). p. 21. ISBN 978-0-08-036695-1.
- O'Ballance, The cyanide war, p.21
- O'Ballance, The cyanide war, p.22
- O'Ballance, The cyanide war, p.23
- Piyadasa, L. (1986). Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After. Zed Books. ISBN 0-906334-03-9.
- "Anti-Tamil Riots and the Political Crisis in Sri Lanka". Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (Questia). Vol. 16: 27. 1984. Retrieved 2006-08-01.
- O'Ballance, The cyanide war, p.25
- O'Ballance, The cyanide war, p.24
- The Broken Palmyra - The Tamil Crisis in Sri Lanka: An Inside Account. Claremont, CA: The Sri Lanka Studies Institute (online: University Teachers for Human Rights). April 1990. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 90 - 61314.
- Swamy, M.R. Narayan (2003). Inside an Elusive Mind: Prabhakaran. Literate World. ISBN 1-59121-003-8. Unknown parameter
- "History of Tamil struggle for freedom in Sri Lanka: A photo album". Quoted from the London Daily Express, 1983-08-29. Ilankai Tamil Sangam: Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA.
- "President Kumaratunga's speech on the 21st Anniversary of 'Black July'". South Asia Terrorism Portal. 2004-07-23.
- Grant, Patrick (2008). Buddhism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-9353-9. p. 132
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Black July|
- Black July '83 Extensive survivor stories and documented history about Black July
- 24 July 1983, Peace and Conflict Timeline (PACT)
- Remember, Groundviews - Articles from Government Ministers and civil society on the 25th commemoration of Black July and the 50th commemoration of the anti-Tamil riots of 1958
- July still black after twenty years, The official website of the Sri Lankan government
- President Kumaratunga's speech on the 21st Anniversary of 'Black July', South Asian Terrorism Portal
- Remembering 1983 black July riots in Sri Lanka, LankaLibrary
- History of Tamil Eelam, EelamWeb -- 404 error April 2013
- Horror of a pogrom: Remembering "Black July" 1983, D.B.S. Jeyaraj